Early History of SS and Jaguar Cars & Jaguar SS100
Jaguar began life as Swallow Sidecars in 1922. Blackpool , a rather dreary town on the Western seaboard of industrial Lancashire; seemingly an unpromising launch platform for the car that became as inspirational in Hollywood or Hong Kong as it was in Buenos Aires or Beijing.
In the years following the end of the First World War, the young William Lyons appeared to be a pushy young motorcycle sidecar manufacturer with delusions of grandeur. Ambitious to move up to cars, in 1927 he used his Swallow Sidecars workers' coachbuilding skills to make bodies for Austin Sevens, giving them a status they scarcely deserved. They were sold by his chums, the motor trade entrepreneurs Bertie Henly and Frank Hough, from their classy new premises at 91 Great Portland Street, London. Henly boldly ordered five hundred cars. To the Bright Young Things in the West End they were Just the Job, gleaming with bright colours and flashing with chrome when other cars were just plain green or staid black.
But to the posh Brooklands crowd, even after Lyons moved his factory to Coventry, Britain's motor city , the Swallow Sidecar company and their successors the SS1 and SS2 were a bit infra dig. They were derided for having a long bonnet but a feeble engine. Most of the SS components were made by volume manufacturers such as Standard, and enthusiasts who may not have known any better refused to be taken in by cosmetic tricks such as two-tone paint or a low roofline.
The public believed it was impossible to build a good car so cheaply, unaware that Lyons achieved it by keeping a tight control on unnecessary expenditure rather than skimping on production or materials. As well as having a gift for how a car should look, Lyons drove a hard bargain with his suppliers. Production costs well ruthlessly held down.
Jaguar apprentices were an elite band whose parents paid a premium to have their sons work there. They received such a sound training that the British motor trade and industry became littered with former Jaguar apprentices in high executive positions. Lyons' choice of SS as a name of his cars was something of a mystery. He said SS was not a contraction of Standard Swallow (the SS1 was effectively a re-bodied Standard Sixteen) or Standard Special. George Brough, who made the Brough Superior and SS90 motorcycles, believed Lyons got the idea from him, but perhaps it was just a catchy symbol of speed and celebrity culled from huge ocean liners whose names were traditionally prefixed SS (Steam Ship). However the truth is probable as simple as the fact that William Lyons original company was called Swallow Sidecars and although his aspirations had long since passed the days of motorcycle accessories, he probably always had a nostalgic look back to his roots, and ‘SS ‘was there. Nothing caught the mood of the moment so well. Ocean steamships were trendsetters, cosseting the globetrotting pre-jetsetters of their day in sumptuous furnishings of splendid art-deco design. SS still carried no sinister ring, and Lyons began looking through lists of birds and animals before deciding on the fastest creature with a name that could be applied to a car. He wanted the name Jaguar, but permission had to be granted by Bristol-Siddeley (they had already registered the names Lion, Leopard and Jaguar for use on their aero engines ) .The name was introduced for new models in September 1935, and until 1940 they were known as SS Jaguars. However the nomenclature was reversed for the 2 seater sports car that would become such an icon in years to come . This was known as the Jaguar SS100. SS gradually gave way to SS Jaguar and the SS motif on the chrome radiator was gradually modified to enhance the Jaguar branding.